The Laker-Wesley Chapel/New Tampa-Nov. 26, 2014

Page 5

Sheffield’s $3M pledge buys more time for baseball complex By Michael Hinman mhinman@lakerlutznews.com

Late-game heroics are something Gary Sheffield became accustomed to during his 21-year professional athletic career. But his plans to build a massive baseball complex in Wesley Chapel is now in the bottom of the ninth, and the retired outfielder is going to need a grand slam to make it a reality. Pasco County commissioners gave Sheffield and business partner James Talton until January to secure enough seed money to help Pasco Sports LLC build a 19-field complex not far from Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel in the Wiregrass Ranch area. Commissioners like new chair Ted Schrader was reluctant to give the developers the extra time, that is until Sheffield pledged $3 million of his own money to make sure it happens. “I talked to my bankers, and at the end of the day when all this is said and done, if nobody comes in and does this, I’m going to use $3 million myself to take care of that note,” Sheffield told commissioners. Sheffield and Talton have struggled to get financing for what has become a $34 million project to attract up-and-coming youth baseball players from around the country. One of the biggest sticking points is the land, Sheffield said, which would remain under the county’s control. Not having the more than 100 acres as collateral has made the overall project less attractive to investors. Also complicating matters is the fact that Pasco Sports can only talk to one investor at a time, Sheffield said. Being forced to wait until an investor comes to a decision before Pasco Sports can approach someone else has pushed the project back for months. It also has put the county’s $11 million in

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SCHRADER NEW CHAIR OF COMMISSION

Ted Schrader is back in a familiar seat with the Pasco County Commission after being elected chair of the county’s governing body. Schrader, based in District 1 covering large parts of the eastern side of the county, was chair of the commission in the 2012-13 session, and then stepped aside this past year for fellow commissioner Jack Mariano. The chair position typically rotates among the commissioners, leading meetings and representing the board as a whole to the public. Henry Wilson Jr., was in line to become the next chair, but lost his re-election bid to

FILE PHOTO

James Talton, right, shares his plans with business leaders last month to build a 19-diamond baseball complex in the heart of Wesley Chapel’s Wiregrass Ranch area as his business partner, retired baseball star Gary Sheffield, listens in.

tourist tax money in jeopardy. “It’s a fantastic location and a great concept,” Schrader said during a meeting in Dade City last week.“We just have to make sure that we have the right partner.” Commissioners had hoped to get the proof of financing they requested to give the baseball complex their blessing. However, without initial funding secured, nothing is concrete just yet. Making the situation more difficult now are the holidays. “In the financial world, if you don’t have a deal struck now, you’re not going to get anything done until the end of the year,” Schrader said.“Delaying this to the end of January is something I don’t have a problem with. I am concerned with the money they are going to be obligated to put forward,

that those bills be paid for in an expedited manner when necessary.” Pasco Sports would have until the beginning of December to turn over the necessary paperwork to show proof of financing. From there, the county will review the paperwork so that commissioners can act on it by the time the new year rolls around. Commissioner Jack Mariano was concerned with high interest rates attached to the $3 million seed money — some 20 percent — fearing annual expenses to pay it could climb as high as $600,000. “This was thrown together just to put something in front of us, and it’s very unstable,” he said. Talton, however, assured Mariano that he’s not looking to pull out $3 million up-

Mike Wells Jr. during an open primary in August.That had opened the door to a possible chairmanship by Kathryn Starkey. However, she immediately nominated Schrader for the job Nov. 18 in Dade City, and her motion won unanimous approval. Starkey was elected the vice chair, officially making her a top contender for the position next year. The commission also swore in its two new members, Wells and Mike Moore. Wells will take over District 4 previously served by Wilson, while Moore will represent District 2, which Pat Mulieri served for 20 years.

Saturday before. The Pasco County Tax Collector’s office, however, will also be closed Nov. 29, and not reopen until Dec. 1. The Pasco County libraries, however, will reopen that Saturday. Although parks and recreation centers will be closed Thursday and Friday, parks and beaches will be open both days from dawn to dusk. The shelter at Pasco County Animal Services will be closed Nov. 27 and Nov. 28, however an animal control officer will be available for emergencies.The shelter will reopen Nov. 29 at noon, and stay open until 6:30 p.m. Buses will not run on Thursday or Friday, but will resume on Nov. 29. The Pasco County Resource Recovery Facility as well as the East Pasco Transfer Station will be closed to both the public and

PASCO THANKSGIVING CLOSINGS

Most Pasco County government offices will be closed Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 27, as well as the Friday afterward on Nov. 28. Most will reopen on Dec. 1, if not the

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front, and then start paying back high interest rates. Instead, Pasco Sports would just use money when its needed to help cover initial bills, and are not obligated to use all — or any — of that $3 million. “It’s just an incentive for that person (who offers the money) to step forward, and an incentive for us not to use it,”Talton said.“It’s absolutely normal to have a bridge loan at a high interest rate at the beginning of a project.” The county has looked at Talton’s and Sheffield’s project as one that could bring in thousands of young baseball players and their families each year, and possibly even attract a Major League Baseball team to have spring training there. Talton told members of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce last October that his project could create an estimated 8,000 jobs and a $318 million annual economic impact boost to the county. Even the $11 million Pasco is investing would come back quickly, he said, as the project is estimated to pay the county $9 million in taxes and other costs. Talton had hoped to spend as much as $70 million on the project, tapping into what he described as a $7 billion youth sports industry. However, the project has shrunk a bit as Pasco Sports failed to bring in the big investors it had hoped. Commissioners approved the extension unanimously, delaying a final decision until January. But Schrader added a warning: this is the last extension. Sheffield remains optimistic, just as he did last month when talking to local chamber members. “We can’t predict how big this is going to be,” Sheffield said at the time.“And I think it’s going to be 10 times bigger than what James is putting to paper right now.” commercial haulers on Nov. 27, but will reopen to licensed commercial haulers on Nov. 28.They will full reopen to the public on Nov. 29.

MURMAN NEW CHAIR OF HILLSBOROUGH COMMISSION

Sandra Murman will lead the Hillsborough County Commission for the coming year, after getting the nod from her peers. Al Higginbotham, who won a close race to become one of the new at-large members of the commission, was elected vice chair. Higginbotham returned to the commission, along with Victor Crist and Ken Hagan. Stacey White joins them, representing District 4. Murman, who was vice chair last year, has represented District 1 in Hillsborough since 2010.

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November 26, 2014

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